It is amazing that a two-year-old child can learn two or more languages at the same time, something very few adults can do. How can a small child without any knowledge of words—and therefore no point of reference—perform all the mental gymnastics it takes to hear, understand, and learn to form the words of two or more languages at the same time, and with no accent? Imagine trying to learn Arabic and Chinese at the same time. This amazing ability is a point of great interest to educators, and the answer provides important insight to parents attempting to train their children in things far less sophisticated than languages.
Babies are born with fully functioning mirror neurons in their beautifully designed little brains. These brain cells automatically enable them to observe and re-create what they see and hear. Anyone who has ever held a newborn baby has been amused at its propensity for mimicry. You should see Mike holding one of his new grandbabies and performing tongue and facial gymnastics, and then laughing like crazy when the baby repeats it. Then he launches into his dissertation on how smart his grandkids are. Don’t tell him, but all babies have the same mirror neurons.
God designed mirror neurons so that a baby can easily learn a language, know what to eat or not eat, and be alert to danger. Infants learn what to fear, whom to respect, how to respond to various things and people, what and whom they should love, and what they should dislike. A young child becomes a reflection of the joys, fears, hates, happiness, sadness, bitterness, thankfulness, and so forth of the people in his face. If your infants and small children are in the care of others, then those people become the de facto mentors and formers of temperament and worldview. Children don’t naturally fear snakes, spiders, strangers, or heights. They are culturalized by observing those around them. Long before genetics begin to manifest differences in children, in the early years mirror neurons are responsible for your child’s perspective.
A young child becomes a reflection of the
people in his face
A wise, discerning parent can take this neuron information and use it to great advantage for her baby. Exposing your tiny child to soft, classical background music, the Bible being read on CD, audio of math facts, as well as other educational material can imprint on their minds areas of great learning. On the other hand, you can use the TV to entertain or distract your little child. The sounds from silly cartoon nonsense can be filling her mind with confusion; drama shows full of fussing, bad language, and fighting can be stressing her fragile soul, and other wasteful trash can be making grooves in her forming brain. Some children seem to be born to excel, to perform, to be confident, to have true grit, to be somebody. I think it can be better said that some babies have a mama or a daddy that help to make that happen for their children. The early years form the mold from which the rest of his life is cast.
I remember squatting beside my great-grandfather (who was born sometime around the Civil War) as he showed me an herb. I must have been less than four years old. I have no memory of what the herb was or what Grandpap taught me, but I do remember adjusting the way I squatted so as to be more like his position. I also remember being aware of the piece of grass I held between my teeth because I knew I held mine just like he did. It is interesting that I can clearly remember mimicking him. The family spoke of him as wise and very knowledgeable. I wanted to like what he liked and know what he knew. The mirror neurons in my young brain formed an indelible memory and shaped my worldview. Did I become an herbalist due to that first awakening and my intense desire to imitate him?
These mirror neurons can be a great asset in training our children—rendering it easy and automatic—or they can be a terrible and unwelcome vehicle to perpetuate generational sins—things we never think of—such as treating a waitress poorly, responding in anger to other drivers, mocking, rolling our eyes, speaking with disrespect of those in authority, or exercising deception in regard to personal habits like food, entertainment, and meeting obligations. We are automatically implanting these traits in our children by means of their mirror neurons. Yawn and everybody yawns. Gripe and your kids gripe. Take extra condiments from the fast-food restaurant and your children become thieves.
We are automatically implanting these
traits in our children
by means of their mirror neurons
The electronic media outlets have become the dominant impactor of mirroring. So many children’s shows have a foolish-acting kid doing silly things, and everyone laughs at his antics. The little neurons in the mind of the beholder are gathering the information that acting like a fool will cause people to like you. Even secular parenting magazines warn parents not to allow children to watch this silly junk. People often write to us, clearly mad at God because they poured their life into their children yet ended up with a foolish jerk for a child. A million things go through my mind at such times, but I’m left at a loss to explain. How do you tell a parent the results were predictable; you did it; you made him; he is your masterpiece? On your watch, he watched you, your friends, the media, kids at church, peers, and possibly pornography.
Raising children in today’s evil times is not for the lazy, indifferent, or casual parent who is swept along with the flow of society—even Christian society. Nor is it for the parent who is too busy to pay attention. We need to be willing to lay down our lives, to step up to being the person God wants us to be. We need to guard and sanctify our children’s environment.
Can we expect to win against this bombardment of evil? Absolutely! When your baby sees and feels joy and peace, he grows up addicted to it and adopts your lifestyle as a means to the continuation of that which brings pleasure. He loves the lovely, praises the worthy, and eschews the evil. It is automatic.
As the child develops she sees thankfulness, loyalty, love between mom and dad, and forgiveness, and she hears words of praise and thanksgiving. Her life is full of things that bring her joy, and she clings to them. She mirrors them, and they become who she is. Show a child the love of working with your hands and he will naturally love to work. The best way to get a child to be more active is to show him the people he loves being active and enjoying it!
A sluggish, bored, even depressed child, when he sees the flurry of creativity and pleasure around him, will be galvanized into becoming full of life and ideas.
Mirror neurons play a much bigger role in a child than do our religious words and parental threats. When you take him by the hand and let him “do life” with you, he learns the most. Every meal should be cooked with a child helping. Every oil change or floor swept should be partnered with a little one. This is what being a parent is all about.
Last week my oldest daughter, Beka Joy (now middle aged), wrote me a note, telling how much her family was enjoying a visit from their Tennessee cousins. Her perspective, thus her conversation in life, is not shallow. She doesn’t write about noisy kids or dirty floors; neither does she include where they ate or what water park they visited. It is just not her style. She sees the souls of their children running in and out of her door. Her note reflected this, “I see so many little ones searching the faces of adults around them, looking for ‘news’ on how life is. The little ones watch my face all the time. Those little watchers have taught me to smile a lot.”
Go and do likewise.